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More than just getting a job

Sarah Viney

There is a never ending emphasis on the benefits of gaining employment especially when it comes to crime reduction. Increasing employability has become a mutual goal for those involved with sentence planning from the very beginning with questions surrounding previous employment in a ‘pre-sentence’ report, throughout the incarceration period when interventions include ‘preparation for employment’ and ‘focus on resettlement,’ right up to when the reduction in risk factors are calculated by attempting to quantify how much you are likely to enter a job upon release.

The benefits of employment are huge to a lot of people of course – benefits include building new friendships and learning new skills that increase ‘self-worth’ and ‘confidence’. They include an increase in income that can help with debt, and benefits. They include filling the ‘empty’ space within time – the time alone thinking, blaming, searching for something, trying to figure it all out. However employment can also deprive people of reaching the goals that matter most in life. It is increasingly difficult for the majority in today’s society, with increasing demands on organisations, for employees (especially women with children) to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Relationships break down and children suffer.

I was driving on the motorway today and ‘trying to figure it all out’ – I imagined the motorway stretching towards the sea and all the cars were travelling forwards just like our lives ageing. Everyone travels in the same direction although each has a different destination. In life we are all travelling the same way but journeys take various routes and some are longer than others. Feel the frustrations of traffic, queuing for miles, what if this is like employment? Moving happily for so long when it begins to rain heavily, one of the exits closes due to flooding, increasing numbers travelling towards the next, one gets distracted with the back wipers, a pile up, stand still.

No matter how much you planned your journey that morning ‘you are stuck.’

I have always been a big believer in a ‘can do attitude.’ I have achieved so much through this attitude myself including published work in a self-help booklet for women that won an NHS Innovation Award and I am now approaching my final year at one of the most prestigious Universities in England. After flying up that motorway I am moving, getting closer to where I want to be, however after applying for a graduate training scheme and coming to a ‘stand still’ this morning even I am questioning whether I ‘can do.’ How can we ever progress if others do not ‘support’ that opportunity? We can be in control, we can change our behaviour and we can learn skills like better coping strategies. We can become emotionally aware and focus on our future, plan as good if not better than any other, and ‘believe’ in ourselves. However we need society to create equilibrium by also building on awareness, by becoming fair and honest in their policies, by supporting and encouraging goals, and by becoming a driver of ‘self-belief.’ There are still so many ‘gaps’ in opportunities of inclusion.

How can a company say on their website how much:
‘we are proud to be a diverse business. Without an inclusive policy, we would miss out on significant talent within the community. In the UK we have the most socially diverse customer base of any retailer and we want our workforce to reflect the communities we serve.’

Then refuse someone the opportunity to apply for a graduate training scheme on the basis of them having an unspent criminal conviction. If they were to reflect on their ‘emotional’ awareness they would be answering questions such as ‘Why are we including this policy?’ And looking within at ‘Who will benefit from this policy?’ I feel that some companies are more than willing to employ ex-offenders in low level employment, paying minimum wage, in order to achieve ‘corporate responsibility’ status within [their] communities (which in itself is debatable).

An issue I am increasingly passionate about is how some of these low level entry positions can add to the many factors related to persistent offending OR first time offending; low self-esteem, financial difficulty. And in particular these types of ‘employment opportunities,’ if they deserve to be called this, are well known in several research studies to have an impact on mental health and emotional well-being, not just on offenders but on society at large. Bring on David Cameron’s Happiness Survey?!! I would personally like to see the ‘Big Society’ doing more towards ensuring equal opportunity where it doesn’t just settle for allowing ex-offenders and other groups the ‘opportunity’ to clean toilets for a living.

Ignorance of those left behind can impact upon those ‘high flyers.’ Mental Health of employees costs businesses an estimated £26 billion a year in absenteeism and reduced productivity.

If companies were honest with themselves about why they choose to have inclusion policies, just like if an individual were honest with themselves about what they have responsibility for, then the answers can be reflected upon, thought about and built upon. Risks may have to be taken, anxieties may have to be felt and channelled positively, but the rewards can be massive, and ‘can’ be achieved instead of arriving at a ‘stand still.’

Investments present an element of risk. Investing in an individual feels a lot more rewarding than investing on the stock exchange as it is investing in a life, a ‘being,’ a ‘community,’ that can have so many rewards and create a ripple effect. You get out what you put in! Speculate to accumulate. Just think about what you can put into an employer-employee relationship. Trust, empathy, support, encouragement, belief. And risks can be pooled. There are opportunities of government support for companies with the ‘development’ of employees so in all honesty the risks don’t have to be that great. The hard work would be about adapting the organisation to fit in with the current Government Work Programme.

This is exactly what I had in mind for the position that I wanted to apply for. I would have taken my own initiatives, worked in my own time on something I am passionate about, and developed policies and procedures that would adapt that company to support from the government in exchange for developing their workforce thus providing job ‘satisfaction’ and increasing productivity. Creating an environment that deeply embeds the values surrounding ‘more than just a job.’ They have missed out on my ‘talent.’ Oops I think they need to reflect upon the wording of their inclusion policy.

An interviewee answering a question relating to the ‘social evils’ of society suggested:
‘We are in danger of losing sight of what is important in life, like kindness, playfulness, generosity and friendship. The immaterial things that can’t be bought and sold. We can quantify money better than we can quantify happiness and contentment. So we chase it, rather like a rainbow, deceiving ourselves that it will deliver that elusive happiness and contentment.’ (JRF) []

Therefore, ‘Employer Engagement’ ought to practice what it preaches – A ‘relationship,’ NOT, just a formal contract between employer and employee! To be ‘engaged’ means more than just a formal contract it can encompass support and encouragement both ways. For instance the employer supports and encourages development within the individual and the individual supports and encourages development within the company. An honest reflection of ‘work-life’ balance and support based practices. This way there are no losers. There needs to be a balance. Just as within an ‘engagement’ to be married if one member takes more than what the other is able to give then the relationship will break down and suffer ‘emotional’ repercussions that can impact negatively elsewhere on the individual and/or on the organisation.

A productive and happy workforce is not all about what’s on the outside – the qualifications and experience (or should this be appearance?), although these compliment it. It’s about developing foundations that can be built upon. What is on the inside should be made a priority. This entails supporting a comprehensive (holistic) work-life balance to enable growth both within and without.

I would like to see the term ‘employer engagement’ as related to more than just a ‘contract’ – ‘more than just getting a job.’ I want to see employers feed enthusiasm and self-belief.

Taken from Issue 17

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